I know what I’m trying to do here — but I’d rather have your unbiased comments, if you’d be so kind as to give them. I’m interested in your thoughts as a reader. This excerpt is just short of 400 words out of around 12,500 so far and maybe 20,000 or more by the time I finish.
(Before I post the excerpt, this is simulposted on my Patreon page for maximum reactions — though if you were to head over and become a patron, even for a buck a month, you’d get free ebooks, see new ebooks a month before they come out, and see most of my posts here three days early. Plus you’d get the satisfaction of helping a self-published science fiction author write his, his wife’s, and his 3 sons’ way out of the trailer park. But who am I to be pushy? :-D)
So, the excerpt from Broken Rice:
And thunder boomed into the room and Caleb jerked in panic the needle falling from his fingers and a burst of shards of fine imported Brazilian rosewood (how do I know that?) hit the blinds and the window behind them like the first driving hail out of a Texas thunderhead, the kind of hail blown out of a cloud when there’s a tornado hot on its heels. Caleb saw splinters as long as his forearm, frozen in a moment of timestop clarity, protruding from where they’d impaled slats of the blinds, from where they’d driven their spikes into the thick bulletproof plastic of the window. Sawdust swam like a galaxy of fireflies flying far, far away through the shaft of light that speared the ragged hole one of the bodyguards – Caleb guessed – had blown through the doors of the office with some ungodly powerful weapon. The hole was too small and the light falling the wrong way for Caleb to see who and what and he didn’t try to see but threw himself sideways out of the chair and landed on Jewel who was scrabbling across the carpet on all fours crazy like a crab thrown onto a hot flattop grill (something hit the door again, not the weapon but still like thunder, this time farther away maybe, and the sound of splintering wood and a curse and someone shouted “AGAIN!”) and they tumbled apart Jewel scuttling under the desk and Caleb speedcrawling on hands and knees and he thought he might be screaming but it was hard to tell and where am I going Caleb’s head slammed into the base of the big old clock making the crystal inset of the door shiver and behind it the heavy gold pendulum swung back and forth unhurried like it had no worries in the world and another clap of thunder blew more splinter hail into the blinds and spearing into the back of the chair Caleb had been sitting in moments before and the white hulk of a huge bodyguard shouldered through the wreck of the rosewood doors that cost more than Caleb’s daddy had made in his whole life racking the slide on a shotgun which Caleb knew and didn’t know how he knew is this a dream was custom made to drop a rhinoceros in mid-charge.
So, there it is. Reactions? I’m looking forward to seeing any and all comments! Thank you.
I posted an excerpt from this work-in-progress a while back, and shortly thereafter I stalled on the story and put it on the back burner.
I wasn’t alarmed, this happens to me often. Writing half of a story and then letting it sit for a few days or weeks until an idea for the second half percolates to the surface of my mind is pretty much standard operating procedure. Apparently, my subconscious really wants in on my stories.
Also, this is more dialogue-heavy than most of the snippets I post. I like to think I have an ‘ear’ for plausible dialogue, for writing things the way actual people might actually say them. Sometimes that means damn the grammar, and that’ just the way it’s gotta be. Honestly, I don’t think I was too rough on the English language this time. I’ve done worse before.
Without further ado, enjoy this snippet from what my subconscious came up with. I censored the Very Naughty Word near the end because I try to keep it basically PG-13 for the blog and save the really racy stuff for the paying customers.
I turned the set off after the setup, the little teaser that runs after the opening credits and hints at developing storylines, asks the viewers to wonder what’s going to happen to who and when before the commercial break. I tore through the cabin until I remembered where I had plugged my phone in and dialed Isaac, ignoring the flashing bank of notification icons crowding the top of the screen.
“Chad, you don’t just turn off your phone in show biz. It’s just not done unless you’re Greta Garbo,” Isaac said without a hello, voice wounded like he’d just been run over in the street and left to bleed. And in a way he had. A talent’s agent deserves to know the high points of what’s going on in his talent’s life. It’s his bread and butter.
“Isaac. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. After the fight on set, I just needed some time.”
“You can have time. But you gotta talk to me. The lines of communication have to be open or I can’t work for you, Chad. I need to talk to you two weeks ago. Can I talk to you two weeks ago? Because I’ve got a hell of a deal for you. Two goddamn weeks ago, Chad,” Isaac said, warming up from wounded to ready to inflict some wounds of his own.
“Okay, okay, I get it. I’ll never do it again. I’m serious, Isaac. The next time I go incommunicado on you for more than an hour or two will be when a meteor shoots out of the sky and whacks me in the forehead, okay?”
“George Alalay left the show,” Isaac said.
“You heard me,” Isaac said. “He showed up for the shooting day after the fight, then he stopped showing up. He had his agent call Jim, wouldn’t even talk to him himself. Nobody knows where he is, either. You know the fan rags are starting to cook up conspiracy theories, Chad? They’ve got you two running off to get married, they’ve got Jim secretly working for a rival network to sabotage Touch the Stars, they’ve got an Afghanistani drug cartel kidnapping you two and the network keeping the ransom demands secret, hoping to salvage the show. It’s gotten very creative. And Stars is on hiatus. They’ve already re-run the season finale from last season, then they’ll run the two shows that are already in the can, then they don’t know what the hell they’re going to do. If they don’t get something in the can in the next week it’s all going to go right down the drain, Chad. And that’s not the worst part.”
“No? What’s the worst part, Isaac?” I had a feeling I knew what he was going to say, and I didn’t like it. I should have left the phone on. I’d bet I had messages from Angelique and Kat, telling me their plan wasn’t going to work out. They must figure I’m deliberately ignoring them. Pulling a Garbo, disappearing into a hole and pulling my millions in after me, and f— the little people.
“There’s no way in hell I’m going to be able to land you anything, movie or network, once you’re the man who killed Touch the Stars at the height of its power. You’re poison, Chad. Unless you can bring this thing back to life.”
“How… I don’t know where to start,” I said lamely.
“Call Jim. No, don’t call Jim. Go see Jim in person. Word is he’s hanging around the Will Smith Memorial Country Club playing thirty-six holes of golf a day. And then figure out how to get George back,” he said. “I’ll do what I can, but I’m not having any more luck finding him than I had finding you. Just get back here, from wherever you are. And we’ll see if you have a career left to save.” He hung up with a disgusted snort.
I watched reality shows… well, okay, bits of them… to see if I could pick up some bits and pieces to make this one feel authentic to readers who watch them.
Not that I’ve never watched a reality show before, but I do have an allergy to the format in general. But that’s neither here nor there.
So far, this story is heading toward novella territory, over 17,500 words (or roughly 70 paperback pages). It’s a near-future yarn, in which your living room television is augmented by feeds of the actual emotions of the actors. The main character snatches victory from the jaws of defeat with the help of an unexpected friend, Galore Holland. Her death triggers a great deal of difficulty for the protagonist, Chad Miklos. It may cost him everything… or catapult him into even greater fame.
There might be more going on. I’m still writing. But here’s a little excerpt from the rough draft, as Chad flees a party at which his agent, Isaac Chen, has been haranguing him in a most unwelcome fashion:
I got into my car and told it to take me to the coast.
“Would you like…” the feminine voice of the computer started.
“Shut up. Most direct route to the nearest coastline. Top speed.”
Under me, sixteen electric motors thrummed like sixteen Satans playing bass fiddle, four on each half-axle. The late great supercars of the past couldn’t match the acceleration of a GMMS Peregrine. The car whipped down the wide driveway so hard my vision blurred. It wove through the city streets and up onto the highway without stopping; the red light had been conquered in the last generation with the death of manual drive. Top speed, though, was limited by road and conditions; the computer topped it out at 275 km/h in the patchy rain. I pushed the sliding top open and adjusted the seat as high as it would go. The wind bellowed in my ears as my head cleared the roof. The raindrops slammed into my face in waves, like swarms of bees stinging the flesh raw. My eyes narrowed down to the thinnest slits possible in self-preservation. All I could see was the red blur of the Peregrine’s hood and smears of green from passing trees through the raindrops caught in my eyelashes.
I rode like that all the way to the coast. I let the car idle for half an hour in the parking lot of a nameless beach overlook, watching the waves. I had no idea where I wanted to go from there, so I told it to take the scenic route home, reclined the seat, and went to sleep.
I dreamed of sitting in the bushes with Galore, on the ruins of an old parka, drinking cheap tequila out of a paper bag.
“Just don’t forget me,” she said, and I woke up in my dark garage gagging. The car was off but the computer was always paying attention. It rolled the window down in time for me to puke on the concrete floor.
The show must go on.
This is a short story I’m working on, more in the horror vein than my usual SF stories. It looks like it will shape up to be somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 words, and will be a 99 cent title unless I decide to hold it back for my next collection.
Honestly, I probably will simply publish it separately, and collect it later. My Isolation and Other Stories collection has been my experiment with publishing a collection of stories that have not been published separately, and I simply am not seeing a difference in sales of or interest in the collection. Hardly a rigorous experiment… but I do the best I can with the limited tools at hand.
Here’s a snippet from the rough draft of Aunt:
One thing people do not understand about psychiatrists, or about anyone really, is that nobody has the power to fix you once you’re broken. Through luck or stubbornness or sheer will to survive, something in you must be willing to take the hand of the helper when they come to help. We do not always have the power to rescue ourselves, or the will to take the hand of the rescuer. But one of the two is what survival demands.
This cover took awhile to come up with. It still looks a little odd to me, but I wasn’t satisfied with any of my ideas. This is the most striking, and I do like it. It has character.
I’m still editing the story, so it will be anywhere from a couple of days to a week or so before I publish it. It begins with a lonely 70 year old man driving into the country to fish in a trout stream behind the house he grew up in. A place he hasn’t seen in a half-century or more. But of course, there’s more to it than that. He notices something that he should have found when he was a child, and it opens up a whole range of regrets… and magical opportunity.
It’s been interesting to write. But then, it’s always interesting. If it wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t do it.
In any event, I hope you like the cover. And I hope you’ll enjoy the story when it comes out. Here’s an excerpt from the mid-edit rough draft. It may change a little before it’s published, but not much. And of course, I chose a portion that leads up to, but avoids, major spoilers.
He hadn’t held a pole in twenty years, and it showed. It took a dozen bad casts to remember the knack of it, and then the thirteenth put the worm just under the overhang of the bank, in the dark where the fish hide. The worm drifted with the current as it sank. The water was shallow, no more than waist deep, and he could see the worm go. It wriggled, living up to its name, and bounced over the stones in slow motion until it fetched up against a big granite stone half-buried in the bottom right by the opposite bank. A zigzag of bright white quartz and flecks of fool’s gold striped it top to bottom, vanishing into the feathery spray of seaweed that ringed it like a skirt.
David recognized the zigzag, the quartz, the gold. How many times did I see that stone as a boy? he wondered. How many times did I think of digging it out and taking it back home with me? But he never had. There was always a reason: it looked too heavy, couldn’t tell how deep into the creekbed it was sunk, the water was too cold, it probably wouldn’t look as pretty once it dried.
The worm kept eddying back against the bumpy granite, doing jerky loops in the turbulence. A little brown spotted torpedo flashed out from next to the stone, from behind the thin screen of seaweed. It tried to drag the worm back under but David set the hook. Unlike the trick of casting, he remembered how to set the hook well: the firm, precise snap of the wrist that caught a trout without yanking the metal barb completely through its delicate lip. The fish put up a little fight and then it was up on the bank. It was small, but big enough to eat. Maybe half a pound. He gutted it with his pocketknife in the grass, leaving the head on, and slipped it into the cold bag in the cooler. He rinsed his hands in the cool water and dried them on a different patch of grass.
As he closed the lid he looked back at the stone. Where the fish had emerged, there was a little black gap in the seaweed.
It hadn’t come from next to the rock. It, or the current before it, had opened up a little burrow of sorts underneath.
The stone wasn’t as big as he had always thought. It was lying flat on the bottom. It didn’t reach down into the mud at all.
I probably could have lifted it out when I was ten, he thought. A seventy year old man could probably manage it too, arthritis or no arthritis.
He sat back down and fished, thinking. That little hole under the rock kept drawing his eye even though no more fish came from it.
There were no more under the rock, but there were more lurking under the banks. They were biting better than he remembered—or maybe seventy just has more patience to wait for the next bite than ten. In an hour there were two more trout in the cold bag, and he had missed hooking three more. If seventy was more patient, it was also slower setting the hook than ten. If he were still a boy, maybe he’d have caught them all. He reeled in his line and set the pole aside.
He ate a summer sausage sandwich he had made for the trip. His eyes kept sliding back to the little hole under the rock; he half-expected to catch it winking at him. He had another cola and walked across the little road to water the apple tree. Old man, weak bladder.
He went back to fishing, and in another hour there were five fish in the cold bag. Enough for breakfast and dinner tomorrow. He packed up, then came back to the bank.
His eyes kept catching on the rock, pulled toward it like iron to a magnet. I should have gone in and gotten it up when I was a boy, he thought. It might have looked nice in the back of mom’s garden, in among her marigolds. She’d have liked it. She had always had an eye for natural beauty…
Maybe I have enough traffic here to get a few answers:
What do you think of breathless run-on stream of consciousness at a dramatic point in a story when you encounter it as a reader? What do you think of it as a writer?
Personally, I like it. It doesn’t really fit in every story, and I don’t put it in every story. But on occasion I’ll be writing a story, the action is coming to a head, the protagonist is really, really in a tight spot. The sentences I’m writing grow shorter. More telegraphic. Sentence frangments appear, even more than usual. And suddenly punctuation goes out the window and I’m writing like this because stuff is happening right and left and it’s all very dramatic I assure you, it’s a run-on sentence from hell and it probably bugs the hell out of the grammatically conscious in the audience but maybe it works for other people and then I get to the big climax of the dramatic point and BANG.
I’m writing like a normal person who has a decent grasp of standard (American) written English again.
So: do you like it when a writer does that? Hate it? Depends on how the author handles it? Only in certain kinds of story? Tell me what you think of it.
For illumination, here’s a snippet from a story I’m working on, an incomplete, unedited rough draft with the definitely-to-be-replaced working title of “Sinkhole Story”. It’s a good illustration of what I’m talking about:
He made himself step into the case and lie down. He had to shift his body carefully to arrange himself inside the boundaries of the case. Waa Howah closed it equally carefully, poking a couple of inconvenient folds of clothing back inside with an extended claw.
Will held his breath. The foam closed over top of him. He twisted his body as Waa Howah pushed it down, trying to close it. Finally, he twisted enough and the foam gave enough. The dark was absolute. The air quickly fouled around him, though he thought he could detect the faintest touch of fresh air from the seam in front of his nose. He wiggled a bit, trying to touch the metal with the tip of his nose, and managed it quickly. Was it only the smell of the metal, or was it really fresh air? It seemed to help. He closed his eyes. The pressure of the case around him, it felt like he was buried alive. Like the trapped spelunker. Panic writhed in his gut like an animal and he forced himself to lie still. He couldn’t panic now. He could betray Waa Howah, if the case suddenly started shaking on its own.
He felt the case lifted, a pause, then another lift. Something scraped across the case beside one ear. The case dropped, paused again, then dropped fast, landing with a thump that jarred his nose painfully into the metal. He snorted, as quietly as he could. Was he bleeding? Was he just imagining his nose stuffing up, was it only fear? He breathed through his mouth and the chemical taste of plastic covered his tongue like an oil slick. The case lifted up again and moved rhythmically, with a rapid walk. Then another thump, and a soft vibration: a vehicle?
The panic was growing. The air… he felt like he was breathing into a plastic bag. His lungs felt heavy, and they were starting to hurt. He felt pressure bearing down on him, and he realized he was pushing against the inside of the case with his back and his feet. His hands were gripping little chunks of foam, squeezing it down into hard pellets in his fists. He felt the case slide a little and thump to a stop, then slide harder and catch up against something, probably the inside of whatever vehicle he was in. There was turning and bumping. It was hard to gauge how long he had been in there, how long they had been driving. Probably only a few minutes, probably less than an hour, but the dark stretched on forever. His back was beginning to ache from pressing against the hard body of the case. He crammed his face harder into the metal seam, trying to find a hint of the fresher air he thought he smelled in the beginning and he smelled nothing but sweat. He opened his eyes and the chemical stink of the foam made them sting. Was that a tiny hint of light, right there at the seam? Was he even looking at the seam, or were his eyes occluded by foam? It looked like light, he could swear it was light. He strained to shove his face closer to the seam. His nose flattened. The vehicle surged under him and slewed hard, gravity shifted under him as the case tumbled. He was upside down. The panic surged loose and he pushed as hard as he could against his constraints and something went pop all at once in his back and his neck and his shoulders and elbows and the case went crack and light burst into his eyes with a surge of pain and a breath of sweet, sweet air and he yanked it into his lungs with a sob and it hurt so sweet and he was still crunched into the case, just a sliver of freedom he rammed his hands into the steel edges cut into his hands and he pushed and pulled and wriggled like an animal trapped in a burrow and one of the hinges gave way and he pushed himself halfway out with a convulsion of his legs and lay there panting in the bottom of the jeep in the open air like some slick exhausted thing trapped half in a birth canal.
Tears ran down his face. Blood ran down his wrists from his abused hands. The jeep hummed under him: electric motors. The sky was dark, but not full dark: near sunset.
This is still in rough draft, so this excerpt could change by the time I finish this story.
I also don’t know when I’m going to finish this, because of my oddball writing process. I’m not sure how odd it is, I don’t know enough other writers that well. But it seems odd to me.
I had this idea about a year and a half ago. It started as a scribbled note: ‘humans explore galaxy, and there’s grass everywhere there’s life. Why?’ I added a few exploratory notes over the next few days, brainstorming random ideas for a plotline. I started the story, wrote a thousand words, and there it sat for a few months. I came back later, discarded the last five hundred, and wrote a new thousand.
Then I ran up against a point where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the idea, and I put the notebook that contained it in a stack of notebooks with half-started ideas, and wrote other things. Last week, looking through notebooks, I ran across it again. Some new ideas about it had congealed by then; the concept is an interesting one and it had come to mind occasionally over the months I left it fallow.
I started writing again. I really want to know where the grass came from, and what the protagonist’s story is. I’ve added four thousand words to it over the last week, and it’s shaping up into a story. I have an idea about the people behind the spread of grass throughout the galaxy. Actually, I have several. The ideas are fighting it out as I approach the point where I’ll have to explain. I don’t know what will emerge. Will it be one idea, the other, a new idea I haven’t had yet, or a synthesis of the thoughts I’ve already had?
I’m not sure. I don’t think this one will go back into the pile of half-finished stories to marinate again, but it might. It has the feeling of a story I’m going to finish to me now, though. We’ll see.
In the meantime, here’s an excerpt of my rough work on Prairie and Stars. I hope I can finish it soon. I really love that title and I want to see it on a cover.
…the approach to the star system is a typical blur. Days of tasteless food, tasteless exercise, tasteless waiting for Ship to catalog and name the various planetary bodies. Periodically, I have taken over the naming in the past, but I have had no taste for the task in the last dozen centuries or so. I don’t even look at the names. I do look at the habitability indices. There’s a 108, minimal variability from the ancestral conditions of Earth. The range of 80-120 is considered habitable over at least 50% of land surface, 90-110 without special equipment. These things change, given enough time or human intervention. When I left Earth, it would have been considered a 105. At one point, in my second millennium, it reached as high as a 118, warming and pollution rendering the Equatorial third of the planet largely useless to humans outside of refrigerated habitats. Today, it is a scrupulously maintained 100, supporting a population of 100 million licensed ancestral aboriginals and 10 to 20 billion tourists at any given time.
This planet, this 108, is a little dry and sports a Pangaeaic continent with heavy mountain formation near the coast facing approaching prevailing winds. This creates a rain-shadow desert the size of Asia.
Aside from that, it is hospitable compared to the average planet. There are a lot of gas giants, of superheated Venuses, of high-gravity colossi and thin-atmosphered wastes. As Ship approaches orbit, I know already what I will see as telescopic sensors examine the surface closely. There is, of course, no obvious intelligent life. None has been found anywhere in seven thousand years of exploration, and I am not expecting it here. Humans being what they are, we still look for it. But one thing is everywhere humans have found, on every planet with soil and free water and a biosphere even close to what humans could possibly inhabit.
Grass. The viewscreen shows me a waving expanse of tall grass, purple tassels with curved scarlet tails depending from the top of each grain head. A little different than the last planet or the one before, but grass. It is the one constant in the known universe.
I have seen grass so fine I thought it was moss until I examined it under a microviewer. I have seen grass that covered near-boiling oceans like a yellow mosquito net. I have seen grass so enormous I mistook it for a mountain range, huge colonial slabs of fused stalks spreading roots out to absorb the streams and rivers it spawned from its own scored and gnarled slopes. If grass holds any slightest surprise for me in the future, I cannot imagine how it could.
I let Ship pick its own orbit, slowly precessing to cover the entire surface of the world as we survey it. The images flow through my mind, processed but essentially untouched, considered but only automatically in the expected patterns, filed and stored and forgotten. There is grass in a hundred variations, and something like a fern in a dozen forms, and a slow amoebic thing like a flowing moss. The oceans hold something like trilobites, jellyfish blobs and tiny translucent undulating ribbons that seem related to the blobs, and even a tiny clumsy amphibian-thing that raises a lush featherlike gill high over its stumpy sensory stalk and ventures onto the damp beach on its belly when it’s sufficiently foggy out, to nibble at the vegetation there that no other animal can reach.
Fairly advanced, as life goes. Not one Earthlike world in ten thousand has gotten as far as animals that can live entirely on land. This one is almost there. Maybe in another million years, or ten million, the feather-gill-amphibian-thing will evolve into something with a proper enclosed lung and begin to eat the ferns and grass inland.
Or maybe it will die, go extinct, vanish. As old as I am, I cannot imagine living long enough to see which happens. I cannot imagine wanting to. I… cannot imagine at all, I think.
Survey completed, I call the probes home and wait for them to arrive and complete their self-checks and decontamination routines.
“There is a contact at the edge of the system,” Ship says as I wait. “Under power. Another survey ship.”
“Tell it that I’ve already surveyed here. Squirt it a copy of our results,” I tell Ship. I have no interest in keeping the information to myself; the entire point of surveying is to spread knowledge. I think back—how long has it been since I’ve discovered anything worth keeping to myself? I can’t remember. Back in the early days, certainly; the first thousand years when First Contact was surely right around the corner and governance was uncertain, still in the hands of men first and AIs second instead of the other way around.
Instead, an image forms in front of my eyes. Politely, I keep the annoyance—a tiny whiff of genuine feeling, of real annoyance?—out of my expression.
“Survey has been completed,” I say. “My Ship has shared results with your Ship.”
“I have been surveying the Oort cloud of the neighboring system, and observed your arrival,” she says. “I have shared an interesting finding with your Ship as well. I would like to share it with you, also.”
“I’m sure my Ship will pass it along,” I say, dismissive, flat, unengaged.
“I have located an artifact. It is not of human manufacture…
The Flowers of Dawn is one of the five stories in the Isolation and Other Stories collection. See blurbs for all of the stories and where to find Isolation by clicking here.
In this excerpt, the main character Elaina Hirschbaum, a diplomat, brings an alien friend along on a very personal errand:
The car turned off of the two-lane state highway and maneuvered between two minimalist stone guardians, sketches of swords grounded at the sketches of their stone feet. Stone markers and silk bouquets in sober and subdued colors marched past as the car kept a slow pace through the manicured grounds.
“This is a… memorial place?” Eschavel asked.
“A cemetery. Yes,” I answered quietly. I could see Coral’s final resting place coming up on the right, and the car slowed gently. I could still see the black rectangle marking the slab of new sod that lay over her. “This is where my spouse is buried,” I said. I kept a sob out of my voice but my vision went blurry. I didn’t fight it, but let the tears roll down my cheeks.
“This is your Private Sphere,” Eschavel said quietly. “My presence here is a mistake.”
“No,” I said, surprised to realize that I meant it. “That you chose today to offer friendship… my friends and family have been great. But they all knew her, too. It feels right to… to…” words failed and I sat for a moment looking down at my shoes, just breathing. I felt a tentative hand on my shoulder, gently patting. The Helf Wanas, in general, do not touch as adults outside of sex, medicine, and combat. But Eschavel was an excellent diplomat.
Appropriate use of haptics is a difficult call even within a single human culture, a phrase from a xenodiplomacy text I still kept as a relic of my grad school days, passed through my mind. Considering the so-called ‘double baffle’ of culture and species differences, he wasn’t doing badly at all.
“It feels right to introduce her to a stranger today,” he said, not questioning, but making a statement.
“I’m surprised…” my training stilled my tongue. I’m surprised you understand, I had nearly said. A statement far too easy to misunderstand as an accusation of ignorance. “…to feel this way,” I finished. It had the advantage of being as true as what I had left unsaid.
“It is a minor custom, irregularly observed among us,” Eschavel said. I keyed the doors and they opened. We exited the car and began walking across the grass at a somber pace.
“To explain a loved one to a stranger,” he continued as we walked, “you must say the obvious things. You remember to see the things you have known so long that you’ve forgotten them. It is an extension of the creed of our Teachers’ Guild: To teach is to learn.”
We reached her marker, and we stood there together for a moment, just looking at it. One of thousands, I supposed, standing in ranks, polished stone with rough edges to remind us that these things had been torn up out of the earth to mark the place where we lay our own to rest inside the earth. I knelt down in the spongy turf and touched the letters. Coral Hirschbaum.
“She was a teacher,” I said softly to nobody; I knew Eschavel was listening and I didn’t mind that, but these words were from me and for me. “She taught art and music and Canadian French. Her students adored her. Her favorite breakfast was blueberry French toast with an over-easy egg on top and I loved cooking it for her. She always apologized to me when she came to bed because she thought she smelled like sweat. I loved her smell. It was gentle and earthy and a little sharp, just like she was. It suited her. I miss it. Her pillows smell a little less like her every night and it’s like I’m losing her again. Only this time I’m losing her slowly, not all at once like the plane crash. She loved roses. She hated cut flowers. She said they were just dead things without their roots. She was so gentle. And she loved roses. She kept a miniature potted rose on the windowsill beside her desk. It’s dying too. I don’t know how to take care of it. She’s gone and I’m losing all the pieces of her that were left. What if I wake up one morning and I can’t remember her voice or her smell or her face?”
Tears were dripping steadily from the end of my nose onto the too-green grass. “I love her,” I whispered. “Why is she dead? Why wasn’t I with her?”
So, I’ve been playing with a ridiculous premise: a bunch of eco-warriors saw a ridiculously huge hunk of pack ice off of the side of Greenland and, using a mode of propulsion based on the old Orion concept, decide to ram something important with it to make a point. At the last moment, the protagonist (I won’t go so far as to call him a hero) gets cold feet (ha!) and throws a monkey wrench into the plan.
I’m still working on it, and all this is rough draft, but I decided to post an excerpt here. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to publish this one on its own, or make it part of another collection. It’s already at around 10,000 words, and will probably take at least another 2,000 to wrap up, maybe more. Those of you who read my work know that I work in short stories. This one is shaping up to be my longest yet. If I’m not careful, one of these days I’m going to accidentally write a novel.
In any event, I hope you enjoy the excerpt. And if you like it, feel free to look to the right and click on any of those links to find more of my writing.
Excerpt from “Speed Glacier”, rough draft:
Harold tried to open his eyes but everything stayed dark. His hips and stomach hurt; the nylon seatbelt that had, and still, secured the broken-off seat to his butt remained in place against his bruised gut. He fumbled at the buckle with stiff, cold hands until he found the button and jammed it in; it was balky and he had to press it half a dozen times before it clicked and the strap parted. The seat rolled off behind him with a thump, wood against wood. He put his hands down and realized that the surface he was pressing on was soft, warm, and breathing. He felt around: a limb, a body, another limb… was that a third limb? Its position made no sense to him. He pulled his hands back and his knees popped painfully, pressed down on an uneven wood surface. Reaching down, more limbs. Reaching up and forward, leaning a bit… another limb. The violence of the glacier dragging bottom must have shoved all of them into the same corner of the room, into a pile. He was glad he hadn’t wound up on the bottom, but instead up against one side.
He tried to open his eyes again and everything stayed stubbornly dark. Was he blind? Were his eyelids crusted shut with ice or blood? He reached up with a finger and recoiled as he painfully jabbed himself in his open eye with a fingertip, provoking an illusory flash of white light. His eyes were open. Either all of the lights had failed, leaving them in the dark half a mile below the surface of the ice, in complete and utter darkness, or he was indeed blind. He reached into his pocket for his cellphone and found a crushed and bent tangle of glass face, plastic case, and prickly broken circuit board that jabbed his skin like a fistful of burrs. Recoiling again, he stuffed his offended fingers in his mouth and tasted blood.
Someone moaned softly in the dark, he wasn’t sure how far away but it was close-ish. He sat still, listening, watching, ears and eyes straining against the pressure of the dark, fighting claustrophobia. The walls aren’t any closer than they were before, he told himself.
Unless the ice had really shifted.
He put the thought aside with an effort. If the chamber had collapsed, there was nothing to do about it and it hadn’t collapsed enough to crush them. He quieted his thoughts and listened.
The moan came again, softer. The ice made a few distant pings and groans like an old house settling in against the winds of a nor’easter. Breathing came from the pile of people next to him; he thought he could feel their warmth radiating in the chill of the room. Their sighing breaths, nearly inaudible, were soft and slow: the breathing of sleep, of unconsciousness.
A third moan, somewhere that wasn’t in the pile, but nearby. And a soft gasp of indrawn breath.
“Butterfly Wing?” he whispered, “is that you?” The darkness swallowed his words without an echo.
“Moon Wolf B2?” It was her, on the opposite side of him from the pile, but probably close enough to reach. He leaned toward the voice, put out his hand, low to the floor. It bumped painfully over chunks of plastic and metal and plexiglass, shifting them with a clatter. He was about to pull it back when her hand found his and grabbed his wrist with surprising strength.
“Harold,” he corrected her, feeling silly, not sure why he felt silly. “Do you have a light? My cellphone is broken.”
Her hand released his and he heard her fumbling through her pockets. A brilliant light blazed into his face, blinding him.
“Ow. Shit,” she said, and he heard a sharp click. The light turned muted and red. It flashed away from them, out into the destroyed room, and as the afterimages faded from his sight he could see the twisted wrecks of the console legs still bolted down to the buckled plywood floor, but the consoles and screens above the legs were gone. Above, the frames that had held the plexiglass barriers had assumed new shapes that seemed to defy Euclid’s geometry. The pile of people he had groped earlier was indeed the other three occupants of the room, half-jammed into a crevice in the uneven wall, defying gravity to reach waist height.
Butterfly Wing turned the light on her wounded leg. Her bloody pant leg glistened black under the red light. He watched as she flexed her foot.
“Is it worse?”
“I think the bleeding has stopped, and I can still feel it,” she said. “I tied my bandanna tight, but I couldn’t get it as tight as a tourniquet should be. It didn’t cut off all my circulation. Either it was tight enough, or I got lucky,” she said.
“Can you walk?” Harold asked.
“How should I know?” she retorted. “I haven’t tried yet. I can feel my toes, so maybe. Why, where do you think we’re going?”
“To the surface, I guess,” Harold said. “Is there anyplace else to go?”
“You want to take an elevator up?” she asked. There was a tone to her voice that warned him that a ‘yes’ answer wasn’t going to be acceptable.
“Oh. The power.”
“Yes, the power. Elevators don’t run without it. Even if we did have power, what are the chances that the shaft is still straight? We took a hell of a pounding.”
“You have to have planned for it, though,” Harold said. “The worker bees like me were supposed to be close to the surface when we hit, but you guys had to be down here. You have to have planned a way out.”
“We didn’t really think we’d live through it,” she said. “We planned on a direct hit, not to drag to a stop on New Jersey’s barrier islands, which is what I think happened.” Harold’s heart sank. No way out. “But,” she continued, and Harold sat up straighter, hopeful. “But, yes, we planned a way out just in case…”